Union, district at odds over raise amount

Union asks for at least 4%, district offers 2% raise


Annalise Freimarck/Bear Witness

Social science teacher Tania Eaton shares her story of financial struggle with district Superintendent Dr. Robert Bravo at his budget presentation Sept. 19

Annalise Freimarck, Managing Editor

Social science teacher Tania Eaton, a single parent and Branham’s 2016 teacher of the year, wakes up at 5 a.m., teaches six periods, and then heads to her second job where she teaches SAT prep once a week, just to run out of money by the middle of the month.

She is teaching an extra class in order to support her family, and considers it her second job; the SAT prep class, run by social science colleague Brett Johanson, serves as “extra” money for emergency purposes.

“[It’s] for tires that were dangerously low, windshield that is cracked all the way across, etc,” she wrote in a text message.

She lives in a two bedroom house with her three children, two of whom attend Branham. Her rent takes out more than half of her paycheck. When the money dries out halfway through the month, she said that she has to start feeding her children macaroni and cheese and Top Ramen for dinner.

Because of this, she has considered leaving Branham and moving in with her mom for a while.

“We [as teachers] don’t feel valued,” Eaton said in an interview.

Her reality reflects the crisis that many teachers in the district are going through: worrying about rent, trying to make ends meet and taking on second jobs. At a district budget presentation Sept. 19 with Superintendent Dr. Robert Bravo, several teachers aired their grievances to the district head.

Spanish teacher Damian Fragano echoed the financial worries of Eaton and many other teachers at Branham.

“I try to do my best to teach quality teaching in the classroom,” he said. “Unfortunately, at the end of the month, (around) 10 days before, I cannot afford (my expenses).”

English teacher Nancy Freschi has witnessed this shared struggle firsthand.

“I hope the board understands the teachers are in a crisis,” she said. “We’re being asked to do more and people can’t even pay their bills.”

Because of these struggles, teachers in the district have been pushing for at least a 4 percent raise in their new contracts, which coincides with the increase in living costs in the Bay Area.

We’re just aspiring to be in the middle. We know the district can’t afford to pay what people in Los Gatos and Saratoga may get just because of property taxes, but we just don’t want to be at the bottom.”

— Amanda Wilson, math teacher and a member of the negotiating committee

Without a contract, they are not ensured employment rights, such as protections from dismissal from their position, as well as employee benefits (retirement, medical coverage, etc). They have been without a contract for a month, as negotiations between the teacher’s union and the board continue.

The district is claiming that they can only afford to give a raise of 2 percent because the amount that they have to pay toward teachers’ retirements to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) is going to more than double from 8.25 percent to 19.2 percent, due to the fear of insolvency.

Dr. Bravo said he has seen the effects of paying out the increased costs firsthand, and said that the district is seeking other sources of revenue to make up for the difference.

“How do we all of a sudden start paying more than twice of what we used to pay for retirement?” he said in an interview with the Bear Witness. “We definitely want to support people, but it’s becoming harder. So where does that money come from?”
However, he does agree that the salaries are not enough.

““I’m very aware that at the end of the day, we do not pay teachers what we should, but we just have to do the best we can to live within our means,” he said. “We can’t spend more money than what we have coming in.”

These back-and-forth negotiations have led to frustration from teachers within the district, and have even led some prominent teachers to find employment elsewhere, such as former yearbook and photo teacher Lisa Pimental and science teacher Marie Pink.

President Kim McCarthy, president of the Campbell High School Teacher’s Association, the teacher’s union, has seen a high turnover rate over the past couple of years due to this frustration and lack of affordability. Though it has slowed for the 2018-2019 school year.

“We have had between 40 and 60 new teachers in the district, and so that’s between 10 and 15 percent of our teaching staff that is turning over every year,” McCarthy said. “We know that’s not good for students.”

Similarly, Branham had previously seen more than half of its teachers leave in the span of three years. For the teachers who do stay, many are forced to commute and miss out on some school festivities.

Math teacher Amanda Wilson, who is part of the negotiating committee, commutes from Morgan Hill and because of that, has to miss out on activities she would like to participate in.

“For me, it’s the night rallies,” she said. “(It’s)just too much to come back at night,” she said.

To address these frustrations, the district is looking into leasing the land they own at the district office, to businesses like a daycare and a care center for people with Alzheimer’s.

“(There’s) a lot of underutilized property, so the board asked for us to apply to change the master plan to allow (it)… to be used,” said Bravo.

Even with these possible solutions to the teacher’s concerns, many teachers are still worried about affordability and being able to teach in the district.

“We’re just aspiring to be in the middle,” Wilson said. “We know the district can’t afford to pay what people in Los Gatos and Saratoga may get just because of property taxes, but we just don’t want to be at the bottom.”